Kansai Yamamoto is one of the leaders in Japanese Contemporary fashion, in particular during the 1970s and 1980s. Kansai was born in 1944 in Yokohama, Japan. After studying civil engineering and English at Nippon University, he completed his studies at the Bunka College of Fashion in 1967. Among the designers with whom he apprenticed are Junko Koshino and Hisashi Hosono; in 1971, he opened his own company, Yamamoto Kansai Company, Ltd., Tokyo. His first collection debuted in London in 1971 and in the USA at Hess’s Department Store in Allentown, Pennsylvania, which was renowned for many avant-garde colletions. His 1975 debut in Paris was followed by the opening of his Kansai Boutique in 1977. In 1999, he and Junko Koshino renewed the kimono, reviving interest in this classical fashion. He is also known for his avant-garde kimono designs, including ones worn by David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust and Alladin Sane tours. In 1999 he organized a fashion program under the aegis of the India-Japan Mixed Cultural Cooperation Committee. Since 2001, he has been known for his fashion eyewear, sold by Aoyama USA. He is a recipient of the Soen prize at the Bunka College of Fashion (1967) and the Tokyo Fashion Editors award in 1977. In 2008, an exhibit named “Netsuki Shinten: Kansai Genki Shugi” (or “Passionate Exhibit: The Energy Principle of Kansai”) was held at the Edo-Tokyo Museum of Art. In 2009, a major retrospective of Yamamoto’s work was exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Yamamoto is Kabuki in his overt theatricality, flamboyant sense of gesture and design, and brilliant colorful design as much to be read from afar as admired at close range. Gaudy by desire, larger-than-life by theater’s intensity, and virtually to Japanese culture what Pop style was to Anglo-American culture, Yamamoto has consistently cultivated a fashion of fantastic images, extravagant imagination, and sensuous approach to both tradition and a view of the future.
Central to Yamamoto’s work is his delight in mass entertainment and popular culture, a sense of both following and leading the ordinary population whether in graphic t-shirts or the convenience of knitwear. His silhouettes for both menswear and womenswear are extreme, suggesting either the most wondrous last samurai or the most magnificent first warriors for intergalactic futures; his appliqués have been in the ambiguous realm between primitive art and 20th-century abstraction.
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